Nikki Beaudoin was about to start her nursing education when cancer cut her life short; her family is making sure her caring spirit lives on
Editor's note: This story is being highlighted in ASU Now's year in review. Read more top stories from 2018 here.
Everybody’s got a sensitive side, but Nikki Beaudoin wasn’t afraid to show hers. She was the kind of kid who noticed when a classmate was feeling left out and went out of her way to include them. After she ran to embrace her emotional grandfather at a funeral, her father called her a tear-seeking missile.
That nurturing disposition made nursing a natural fit for Nikki, and she was excited to be accepted to Arizona State University’s College of Nursing and Health Innovation. Tragically, before she could enter the program, Nikki passed away from an extremely rare and aggressive form of cancer in June 2017.
Determined to turn tragedy to triumph, her family created the Nicole Brittany Beaudoin Nursing Scholarship to honor her memory and extend her legacy of kindness and compassion.
On a path to nursing
The daughter of accountants and younger than her three high-achieving siblings, Nikki didn’t always have such a clear idea of what she wanted to do with her life. Her eldest sister, Kristie, was an attorney and a graduate of Duke Law; her other sister, Katie, had been in the top 1 percent of her class; and her brother, Scott, was a starter on the state championship football team.
Unlike many kids, though, Nikki had no problem bringing her concerns to her parents and enjoyed talking things out with them. They told her she could be every bit as successful as her siblings, as long as she was willing to work hard. Nikki took the advice to heart, doubling down on her studies and eventually achieving a 4.0 GPA at ASU.
“She took a path that nobody else did,” said Jeff Beaudoin, Nikki’s father. “And I think that was a little bit of a challenge for her, but she was very determined.”
Nikki had always had a proclivity for helping others, and she began thinking about a career in medicine in high school. But it wasn’t until after she attended a conference the summer before her junior year at ASU that she was sure it was nursing she wanted to pursue.
“She felt that nurses had a real chance to connect with patients,” said Nikki’s mother, Barb Beaudoin. So she chose to gear her academic and professional trajectory toward becoming a nurse practitioner. “She felt like that was where she’d make the most impact.”
Video by Deanna Dent/ASU Now
A reason for the pain
Nikki began complaining of a sore neck and weakness in her right arm in late December 2016. The pain wasn’t excruciating, but she was having trouble shifting while driving, which worried her a bit. In January 2017, she saw a doctor about it and began physical therapy. When that didn’t work, a family friend suggested she get an MRI.
With a busy school and work schedule (Nikki was working as a scribe at St. Joseph's in Phoenix at the time), it was hard to get the procedure scheduled.
By February, her neck pain had gotten worse, and she had taken to walking around campus at night, sometimes two or three miles, just to ease it. Barb often drove from their family home in Moon Valley to accompany her on those walks.
When Nikki’s doctor reviewed her MRI, he suspected multiple sclerosis and started her on a round of steroid treatment. On Thursday, Feb. 23, when the treatment was complete, Nikki’s doctor asked her to raise her arms. She couldn’t.
Alarmed, the doctor referred Nikki to a neurologist to get another MRI that same day. She and her mother went immediately to the specialist and sat in the waiting room for hours, and she then endured another of the claustrophobic procedures.
The next few days were a blur. On that Monday, the head neurosurgeon at St. Joseph’s Hospital told Nikki and her parents that the MRI had revealed a large tumor on her spine and that they would need to perform emergency surgery.
“Once they figured out what was wrong, it happened like that,” Barb said, snapping her fingers. “It was figuring out what was wrong that took too long.”
The treatment begins
Nikki had surgery to remove the tumor Tuesday, Feb. 28, and spent the next 10 days in ICU rehab, where she had her 20th birthday party on March 5. She was finally released March 14 but had to move back home with her parents and relearn to walk because of the nerve damage caused by the tumor.
She began radiation and chemotherapy but didn’t let it stop her from maintaining stellar grades in her courses at ASU and keeping a positive attitude. She relied on friends to record lectures for her to listen to at home, and family members to accompany her to difficult doctor visits.
“We were really lucky that we had really supportive family and friends in our lives,” Barb said.
Kristie accompanied her sister to several doctor visits during that time and said that Nikki never complained. In fact, hardly anyone around Nikki, aside from close family members, even knew she was sick.